DENVER (AP) -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says a pilot program allowing American and Mexican truckers to drive products across the border has been good for business.
Peters said efforts to end the pilot program are misguided. At a meat packaging plant in Denver, she said transferring beef and other products to different trucks at the border costs time and money.
''As a result, every slab of beef, every bushel of cabbage and every sack of potatoes leaving this state for Mexico has to come to a complete stop north of the border while they are loaded onto Mexican trucks driven by Mexican drivers before heading south,'' she said Tuesday after touring the Maverick Ranch Natural Meats facility.
The North American Free Trade Agreement gave Mexican trucks greater access to U.S. roads in 1995, but opposition from labor and safety groups had kept them off most U.S. roads. The roads were opened to a few trucks only when the pilot program began last September.
Mexican and U.S. drivers panned the program because of concerns that truckers in the other country would be at a competitive advantage, and Peters has been fighting an appeal by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the program.
Earlier this month, Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, called for an investigation into why the federal government was spending money on the pilot program, saying Congress prohibited spending money on the program last year.
''When Congress passes a law that says no funds can be used for this program, we mean no funds can be used for this program,'' Dorgan said. ''The Department of Transportation cannot simply pick and choose which laws they want to follow and which laws they want to break.''
But Peters defended the program Tuesday, citing businesses benefit.
''It is hard to understand why anyone would choose a time like this to slam the door on growth and profits for U.S. businesses,'' Peters said.
''Whatever their reason, this is no time to let the politics of pessimism dim the promise of prosperity for hundreds of thousands of American drivers, growers, and manufacturers,'' she said.